By Dr Muiz Banire, SAN
As is known to the majority of Nigerians, the Independent National Electoral Commission (hereinafter referred to as INEC or the Commission) is the body constitutionally saddled with the conduct of elections and referendums in the country. It is presumably a body that is to be impartial in the conduct of elections and other responsibilities.
Its responsibilities, among others, range from civic education of voters, registration of voters, the conduct of elections and defence of election petitions. Towards achieving this objective, the law governing the activities of the Commission provides that the Commission shall be funded for at least a year to the conduct of the actual elections to ensure a hitch-free election. Consequently, the desired funding has, to a large extent, been guaranteed and expectedly, preparations in earnest for the conduct of the 2023 elections have commenced.
However, beyond the brick and mortals, it appears to me that the Commission is not being proactive in respect of some basic issues that ought to signal the seriousness of the Commission in the execution of its mandate. In other words, there are some activities or actions, devoid of financial implications, that ought to be implemented or taken to complement the procurement and logistics issues involved in the conduct of the forthcoming elections.
Before delving into the issues, however, let me seize this opportunity to remind Nigerians that registration to vote will come to an end by next month, June 2022, as such there is a need for all eligible voters to register. Without registration, even where eligible as a voter, you will be unable to vote, thereby providing fertile ground for the politicians to manipulate the process and rig out credible candidates. Therefore, while I urge you to go and register, I equally will admonish you to mobilize others in your precinct to do the same. It is only through the ballot that we can together change the narrative of this country.
This said, we now proceed to the focus of this edition of this column. From the data provided by the Commission, as of the last general elections, slightly over eighty-four million Nigerians registered to vote in the elections. Today, over a million additional registration has been successfully done.
The cumulative total of the registered voters will, therefore, be in the region of eight-six million-plus presently. This figure includes all the dead persons whose names still feature on the electoral register, those registered voters that have relocated abroad, or to other areas of the country other than their original places of registration and have failed, neglected and/or refused to transfer their registration to the new place; and those with multiple registrations.
The expectation and desire of the Commission are that by the end of the registration exercise, a minimum of a hundred million eligible voters would have registered. This certainly will appear utopian given the lackadaisical attitudes of the eligible voters, particularly the youth that has not made any significant showing in the process.
By the time the various anomalies indicated above are deducted by way of filtration, and the register is cleaned up, we are most likely to end up with about sixty million valid eligible voters in the Register. This, in an estimated population of about one hundred and fifty million eligible voters, is not impressive, to say the least. Be that as it may, this is not my destination in this piece but just simply a teaser and a further invitation to the potential voters to register.
As remarked earlier, my focus is on the noticeable areas of ineptitude by the Commission that signals a state of unpreparedness and/or lack of zeal to bite in the forthcoming elections. Without this decisive will, the electoral process is endangered. The Commission seems to be barking without the capacity to bite. “Morning shows the day” is the proverbial saying. By what the Commission is demonstrating presently if it is something to go by, then Nigerians should not be expecting any miracle from the Commission in the next year’s elections. Just three main areas in this regard will manifest my concern.
The first area is in connection with the issue of the uncollected permanent voter’s cards in possession of the Commission. In virtually all our electoral cycles, the Commission announces figures of uncollected cards in its possession, with no significant response from the potential holders. In the circumstances of this nature, where there is a poor response to the call for collection, one’s reasonable expectation would be an advertisement of the cards with the indication of collection points, which is likely to attract the attention of the registered voters or by which such development and opportunity can be better brought to the attention of such persons.
The highest likelihood is that one person that knows such a registered voter who has failed to collect his voter’s card, will bring this development to his attention. The multiplier effect of this approach is the gingering of public attention to the exercise of their franchise. This will further address the challenge of apathy which even the Commission has equally been lamenting. In addition, it will alert the potential holders, either directly or indirectly through the third party, of the existence of their cards and the need for them to ensure collection.
It cannot and must not be heard that the Commission cannot afford the cost implication, as it ought to have budgeted for this along with its expenditure.; But assuming, without conceding, that it did not, the Commission can approach the media by way of partnership and corporate social responsibility to assist in this regard. The media has a stake in the electoral process and the Nigerian project, by extension.
Where this continues not to be done, the allegation of the use of the uncollected cards to rig elections will continue to be rife, and the failure or omission of the Commission in this regard would lend credence to the allegation. The ‘rumour’ is that such uncollected cards are often sold by the unscrupulous officials of the Commission to the politicians close to the election period, which is used for unauthorized voting by proxy. This wreaks havoc on the electoral system.
This is part of what impairs the credibility of our elections. The alternative to the suggestion above is to, after a period of grace given and collection is not made, the cards are destroyed, and the names removed from the register to avert the abuse of the cards’ usage.
This is a further way of cleaning up the electoral register. Why the above has not happened, despite all the adverse public comments on this issue, beats my imagination and renders the act or omission of the Commission suspect. The second aspect, in our interrogation, relates to the hullabaloo of the Commission on the issue of multiple registrations.
In the recent past, it has been the hues and cries of the Commission that they have uncovered several multiple registrations by certain eligible voters. As of 2019, the Commission stated the number of multiple registrations to be 1,034,141 whilst in 2022, 1, 390,519 were unveiled. The figure uncovered recently was out of 2, 523,458 which implies multiple registrations in the region of 45 per cent.
This latest statistic was arrived at after a recent filtration process by the Commission. Since the discovery of these illegalities, the question is what has happened to the culprits? So far, nothing has happened, notwithstanding the criminality Involved in such a mis-adventurous act. One’s expectation would have been the arrest and prosecution of the culprits to send signals to the politicians and the electorate at large that the Commission will not accept any transgression going forward.
These culprits ought to have been used as scapegoats with consequential deterrent effect on other potential people of like minds, but none of this we are having. This is why politicians continue to be emboldened in committing the various nefarious acts, even against the express provisions of the law. The last but not the least significant aspect of my concerns is the taming of those politicians who have developed the potential of brazenly violating electoral laws, particularly the Electoral Act and the guidelines made to supplement and enforce it.
It will be recalled that further to the passage of the Electoral Act, the Commission released the electoral timetable, featuring political campaigns to be between a particular period. Campaigns are meant to be conducted between 28th September and 23rd February 2022. Notwithstanding that this timetable is binding on all the political parties, politicians and the general electorate, we witness daily, in the last couple of months, the continuous violation of the Act and timetable by aspirants under the guise of consultations, campaigning all over the country. The campaigns were not restricted to their political parties but the public at large.
This is a clear violation of the law. The expectation again is that the Commission would have, at the barest minimum, cautioned the various aspirants, if even cowardly it cannot condemn nor act in prosecuting or taking decisive action on them. Again, none of this we are having, suggesting absolutely the weakness of the Commission in upholding the Act and the outlined timetable issued by the Commission itself.
These violators are the potential leaders that will be foisted on us eventually by the Commission due to its inaction. This implies not only a lack of readiness and capacity by the Commission but also a lack of courage and ineptitude. Where do we go with these aberrations and impunity among others? I am bewildered. These are some present and pertinent challenges before the Commission and dangers to the electoral system.
I recently read about the call by the Commission that political parties, in line with the Electoral Act, should submit their membership registers to the Commission. The extent of compliance with this is yet to be disclosed by the Commission as one knows that some political parties are yet to comply when the Act mandatorily requires submission of the same thirty days before the primaries.
No political party has such luxury of thirty days again. Finally, we witness the violation of the Electoral Act daily by the parties who continue to impose illegal conditions on the aspirants, most of which limit the democratic rights of aspirants without any guidelines or pronouncement from the Commission. What does the future portend for us amid all these iniquities that are thriving with impunity? I am worried and we all must be worried.
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